Shelter Matters Newsletter




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Dear friends,

Bill 202/2019, currently going through the legislature, is an important piece in the jigsaw of safeguarding children. But we must also remember the other pieces of this massive and complex puzzle.

If you’re hopping on a plane this summer take a moment to listen to the safety announcement. First, you put on your own oxygen mask, then take care of your kids after that. The same applies to domestic abuse: when we look after the safety of mothers we support the wellbeing of their children.

Between 2016-18 in Alberta, women's shelters served 18,136 children, around half of them were pre-schoolers. Most of us can not imagine the lives these children have lived. They may see their mother being assaulted and demeaned, hear loud conflict and violence or witness the aftermath. Abusers may threaten, or use, violence against the children or talk inappropriately to them about their mother.

Research by the Public Health Agency of Canada (2003) indicates that neglect, exposure to domestic abuse and physical abuse are the three most common forms of child abuse. The impact of this is both immediate but also long-lasting. In a famous study in the USA on ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ by Dr. Robert Anda it was shown that ending the abuse of women and children would reduce the overall rate of depression by half, and alcoholism,  suicide, drug use and domestic violence by two-thirds. 

This is why interventions to end child abuse are so important: as is the understanding of the interplay between child abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Bill 202 updates previous legislation so that the existing duty of care for children – already held by every citizen – is clarified so we can report abuse directly to police.  Failure to do so could result in a $10,000 fine or a prison term.

The intent of this update is to hold the safety and well-being of a child as a sacred social duty. This sentiment is something we all should endorse. The 19th-century historian WH Lecky argued that we all engage in an ever-expanding circle of concern. It starts with the individual, then the family, all the way to “a nation, a coalition of nations, all humanity and…the animal world.”

Bill 202 supports this idea that we are all responsible for the rights of children. Extending this, we are also all responsible for the rights of abused women. However, while Bill 202 successfully closes one loophole it risks opening a number of others.  

One existing reality of the mandatory duty to report is that mothers who are doing everything in their power to protect themselves (and their children) are accused of child neglect.  This happens if they can not access adequate supports to protect the children by leaving the abusive relationship.  This results in their children being taken from them even though we know that instances providing wrap-around supports for women and children is better for them and less costly to society.

We also know that abusers often weaponise the law to use it as a tool against women.  After all, for a man who could kill his children, his partner and then himself, malicious use of the weight of the law against his family means nothing.  Any enforcement of this law needs to be done with an understanding of how domestic abusers are able to manipulate systems to maintain their power and control.

Finally, in the case where people and communities have had bad experiences with police (in Canada or in their country of origin), they may not trust law enforcement agencies enough to phone 911.

How do we solve these problems? Firstly, we must ensure that anyone facing abuse can access trauma and violence-informed care when they need it. This requires ongoing and expanded investment as well as more education of professionals on the dynamics of abuse.

Secondly, we must continue to build trust between government agencies (including law enforcement and Children’s Services) and those communities who experience racism.  Women’s shelters play an important role supporting effective interventions for the mother as she navigates complex systems, such as criminal justice and child welfare.   We also require a whole of society approach to ensure that institutional racism is eradicated from our government systems.

Shelter staff face ethical dilemmas every day on the issue of care for children and for women. Their role is not an easy one in balancing the rights of children and building women's trust (as you will see in the story from Odyssey House later in this newsletter). ACWS will continue to canvass members to identify the long-term impact of Bill 202 on shelter staff and the women and children they support.

So, if on a rainy summer day you find yourself doing a jigsaw puzzle keep in mind that as with Bill 202 every piece counts but when it comes to preventing child abuse we have many more pieces to go.

Yours sincerely,



About a year ago a woman, Lindsay (not her real name), and her children came into Odyssey House Shelter. We usually try to talk about our legal duty to report to Children’s Services about any concerns for the safety of children as early as possible in the shelter intake process.  But before we had that conversation with Lindsay she took her children to visit her abusive ex-partner. An hour before she was due back RCMP called to ask if Lindsay was in shelter.  They told us that there was an open investigation and that Lindsay’s ex-partner posed a danger to the children.  No other details were given.  Suddenly, we had an ethical dilemma on our hands.   

The work of women’s shelters never endsWe are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week supporting women and their children.  About a year ago a woman, Lindsay, and her children came into Odyssey House shelter.  We usually try to talk about our legal duty to report to ? as early as possible in the shelter intake process.  But before we had that conversation with Lindsay she took her children to visit her abusive ex-partner.  An hour before she was due back, RCMP called to ask if Lindsay was in shelter.  They told us that there was an open investigation and that Lindsay’s ex-partner posed a danger to the children.  No other details were given.  Suddenly, we had an ethical dilemma on our hands.   

We had not given Lindsey appropriate notice of our duty to report.  We facilitated her visit to her ex-partner because we believe women are experts in their own lives and we want to walk beside them in their complex journey.  We know the hoops women must jump through when leaving an abusive relationship and we respect the decisions she makes.  

We also believe in informed consent, in involving women at every step of their journey.  If we are calling Children’s Services we usually involve the woman in this process too.  We want women to feel empowered and to trust us as their supporters and their advocates.  

Our choice seemed to be between trust and safety.  We were uncertain what to do. 

One option was to wait until Lindsay was back in shelter.  On her return we could talk with her about safety and our duty to report.  The other option was to call Child Family Services and report to them the small amount of information we had. 

Our staff have been through the Ethics – Foundation Issues workshop by Dr. Dawn McBride (in conjunction with ACWS).  The workshop includes tools for working through ethical dilemmas. The tool we used in this case was “Will your use of power pass these ethical tests?”.  This tool consists of five questions to ask yourself before you make a decision

The tool recognizes the power difference between shelter staff and, in this case, Lindsay.  It allows staff to reflect on the various implications of power-based decisions to ensure they have a holistic view of the implications of each choice.


Will your use of power pass these ethical tests?

1. Tell the Public Test (Public scrutiny; would you want your action, along with your name, to be published in the local newspaper? On social media?)

2. Reversibility Test (Is this how I would want to be treated, if the situation was reversed – “if I was the client?”)

3. Professional Test (What would a committee of my peers say about my action? What would a person of high moral character say about my action? What would a lawyer say? What would A funder say?)

4. Universality Test (Apply to others; Would you make this same decision for other clients too? Is there a bias that facilitates “special” treatment for some?)

5. Test of Gain: (Do I gain more than the client by my decision, e.g., gain power? gain fame? gain “strokes”, gain “relief” of not having to do my job?


Our staff worked through the questions using the information we had.  We decided to call Children’s Services. They decided to come to the shelter and wait for Lindsay to return.  When Lindsay returned, she was upset at our decision.  She decided to leave the shelter.  We explained to her our legal obligation to protect her children.  Although she left the shelter Lindsay got hooked up with an Odyssey House Community Support Worker.  The CSW supported her through the court system, helped her get a parenting order, and found a local daycare spot for her children. 

These types of situations are tough and complex.  It often feels like there is no good outcome.  In other cases the ending to the story could have been much different: perhaps we would never have heard from her again. She may have struggled through the end of her relationship without any supports.  She may have returned to her abuser.  So, we were happy that Lindsay continued to reach out to us. 

People who have experienced trauma as a consequence of their relationship may make decisions that do not appear to support the best interests of the child.  They have endured years of manipulation.  So, the role of a shelter is to support women’s journey to safety by building trust.  A tension can live between trust and safety. Lindsay is a compassionate mother and a resilient person who continues to work with our team and has built up community supports within the Grande Prairie area all of which help keep her safe. 


The Alberta Council of Women’ Shelter works with 39 members across Alberta.  Each member is different, from the size of the building and floorplan, to whether they accept pets, to the different types of outreach services they provideFind a Shelter.But all ACWS members sign up to a statement supporting our Ethical & Moral Framework which they apply in their daily practice.

What remains the same throughout ACWS members are the ethical shelter practices. At the start of 2019 ACWS launched a pilot project for members that emphasized educating women, children, and seniors coming into shelters. The project aims to simplify the intake process so that at a distressing and complicated time people can understand their rights and make informed choices about what they consent to.

One of the most important lessons in the pilot project is the understanding of very important words.  

‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘I Don’t Know’, ‘Pass’, ‘I Don’t Want to Answer’, ‘Stop’, and ‘Goodbye’.

For some women entering shelter this might be the first time they have been given real permission to use these words in a very long time. 

For a person who has been exposed to trauma saying these words aloud may be the first steps to them feeling self-empowerment and in control.  Discussing the 7 Very Important Words as soon as a person enters a shelter is a simple and yet powerful way to acknowledge that women’s and seniors’ shelters are an ally to those experiencing violence and abuse. Shelters are there to support healing, promote safety, and not to take away their voice. 

Shelters will inform a woman that she has the right to say any of these five words.  Saying them also has consequences. For example, someone may decline the opportunity to complete a Danger Assessment.  Then the shelter worker would advise them of the consequence: they will not be able to assess the levels of risk of the woman being murdered by her abuser which informs her safety plans. 

Adopted from the Informed Consent Pilot Resource Package. Please e-mail Catherine Hickman for more information. 



I came to the shelter one morning feeling tired, upset and nervous. I was met at the door by a welcoming staff member, invited inside and shown a place to put my belongings down. The staff member invited me to join her in a small but friendly office, pulled out a chair for me to settle in and offered me a warm mug of tea. The Staff was about to shut the door when I said, “Please don’t close it.” The Staff said, “No problem” and left it open. 

I came to the shelter one morning feeling tired, upset and nervous. I was met at the door by a welcoming staff member, invited inside and shown a place to put my belongings down. The staff member invited me to join her in a small but friendly office, pulled out a chair for me to settle in and offered me a warm mug of tea. The Staff was about to shut the door when I said, “Please don’t close it.” The Staff said, “No problem” and left it open. 

The Staff asked me some questions about my name and health needs as well as if I wanted to talk about why I came to the shelter. I worried about upsetting the Staff by saying no but I was too tired, so I said, “Not right now.” Again, the Staff said, “No problem. It’s great that you take good care of yourself by saying no when you need to.” The Staff led the way to a small bedroom and explained that I would be sharing this bedroom with another single woman. We would each have our own bed and space to store clothing. The Staff said that lunch would be at noon, but I didn’t have to join for meals if I wasn’t ready. The Staff left, and I laid down to rest. I was still feeling upset but much less nervous. 

Later in the afternoon when I went downstairs, I was smiled at by a few other women. They asked me who I was and where I came from. “I thought the Staff would’ve told you about me,” I said. “No, they don’t tell anyone about anyone else. They say it’s our right to share what we want with one another,” said one of the women. I was waved over by the same Staff I had spoken to that morning. The Staff asked how I was settling in and if I’d like to talk more. I said yes but asked if we could talk somewhere other than the office. “Thanks again for letting me know what you need,” the worker said, “Absolutely we can go someplace else. Where would you like to go? There is a space for meetings, or maybe your room?” I suggested we sit outside. The worker explained some of the privacy risks to that like being overheard by other, but I said I was okay with that. As we started talking on the porch the Staff shared some information about the shelter and the programs and support that were offered there. The Staff let me know that in a few days we could talk about my goals while in the shelter and the support available to help me start working towards them.

Adopted from the Informed Consent Pilot Resource Package. Please e-mail Catherine Hickman for more information. 


Dear Friends,

“Creator, give the wisdom and courage to our lawmakers, police and anyone who is called to help a woman who is suffering abuse or violence or who has gone missing. May they see she is a woman, who has loved ones, is a member of our community and not, first, look to see if fault can be found on the woman. It is never her fault.”   

  •  Elder Rita Gordon’s prayer at the closing ceremony of the National Enquiry in to Missing and Murdered Indigenous women. 

On Monday Canadians were asked to face an uncomfortable truth with the release of the full report of the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The report found that our treatment of Indigenous people is not simply a social justice issue, nor a series of political failures: it is the culmination of many years of genocidal policies. The original inhabitants of this land, and their descendants, were usurped from the land.  Then policies, strategies and brutal tactics were employed to remove access to the natural resources and destroy their rich cultures.   


The word has immense power.  It conjures up images of Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and – of course – World War II. And while the word carries all this power it is easy to be distracted by this density and sidestep the substantive issues.  The fundamental purpose of this report, and its many predecessors, (including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), is to transform our society so we live in a new society, based on trust, dignity and mutual respect. 

The report is well-written and well-reasoned. It's many recommendations for societal transformation will not be easy to dismiss. They need to be considered by every institution and every individual.  To do otherwise would be, borrowing from Romeo Dallaire, to continue “shaking hands with the Devil”.   

For the women’s shelters movement the implications are enormous and the recommendations are vast. Many of them chime with what ACWS has been advocating for many years including the need for culturally safe and empowering services, informed by approaches which are cognizant of the impact of trauma and violence, and delivered to all Canadians. 

One of the Inquiry’s Overarching Recommendations is to ensure that services provided by and for Indigenous women and girls receive appropriate funding. In 2012 ACWS conducted a study of the funding gap between provincial and On-Reserve shelters in which we established that On-Reserve shelters received significantly less than their provincial sisters. Since then the gap has continued to widen. We will continue to Walk the Path together with our On-Reserve members to find the best ways to highlight issues such as this. We will also be working to ensure that the provincial government’s new Commission on the Elimination of Red Tape closely examines the issue of documenting each women who comes from a reserve to stay in an off reserve shelter. This bureaucratic process adds additional stigma on women from reserve while also wrapping shelter staff up in endless unnecessary form filling and other bureaucratic acts so the provincial government can claim general funds from the federal government, and so profiting from each abused woman who walks through the door of the shelter.  It is a deplorable piece of bureaucracy which should be ended. 

It would also be too easy to allow the results of this Inquiry to paint a two-dimensional picture of the lives of Indigenous women. Indeed, the Inquiry acknowledges this when it recommends that the media and all levels of government need to take greater strides in shifting away from negative stereotypes and empowering greater participation so that Indigenous women can tell their own stories. 

We know that Indigenous women are graduating from third-level institutions at higher rates than ever before and that they are making enormous strides as entrepreneurs.  These stories, too, are part of the rich tapestry being woven showing us that change can happen. 

The release of this report will spark a fierce societal debate. There are those who will argue that it is nothing new.  Indeed, we have seen similar recommendations in numerous previous reports and the recommendations have been systemically ignored by those in power. On the other side there are those who would have preferred that this report was never commissioned and never saw the light of day.  

For me this report represents a clarion call.  It is not the first one and I fear that it will not be the last.  But that does not strip away its significance. If we are to rebuild that sense of trust and mutual respect we, as Settlers, must be willing to deliver on our promises because this is the most fundamental building block of trust. Only then can it be said that we have turned and begun to shake hands with Creator. 

Yours sincerely, 

Jan Reimer 



Marina is 70 years young. She shares her apartment with the light of her life, her little dog Zach.  She is a petite woman who sports a fashionable pixie cut and is quick to laugh. Marina has a network of friends, is involved in a variety of social wellness activities and has become an expert on setting and maintaining boundaries. She has spent the past year evolving into the force of nature she is today - and she has the tattoo to prove it.  Early in 2018 the Sage Seniors Safe House was contacted by a Family and Community Social Services (FCSS) worker from a small town 2 hours away from Edmonton. This worker was very concerned about an older adult woman named Marina who was experiencing domestic violence and was wondering if the Safe House could be a source of support. 


An over the phone intake interview was quickly organized to determine if the Safe House was the best fit for this woman. During the phone call we learned that Marina had suffered many types of abuse, for decades, at the hands of her spouse. Charges had been laid by police for a recent physical assault, a no contact order had been granted and the spouse was being held in hospital. Marina saw this as the opportunity to break free from the relationship and move to Edmonton where she could “disappear”. During the telephone interview Marina was soft spoken and shared her story through her tears. The abuse from her spouse had escalated in recent years and she was more afraid than ever for her life. As is often the case, she had made attempts to leave in the past when she could At the time of the call the Safe House did not have an available space however spouse’s stay in hospital was indefinite, giving Marina and her worker time to plan her move. The Safe House team coached and guided the FCSS worker on affordable housing options in Edmonton that accepted pets and the services available in Edmonton that Marina would have access to including the support of the Intensive Case Management Coordinator (ICM) with the Safe House. 


Marina, with the support of her FCSS worker secured a place for her and Zach in Edmonton.  With the help of her family she moved into her new home. Marina quickly connected with the Safe House ICM along with a Health Services Nurse Practitioner at Sage and began her journey to live free from abuse.  When Marina first began working with the ICM she, as is to be expected, was experiencing a great deal of anxiety and a much depleted sense of self-worth and confidence, she lived with a tremendous amount of fear about everything and seemed to be almost folded in on herself. 


The ICM worked with Marina to create a safety plan, access financial resources including her pensions and the Fleeing Abuse Benefit and connect to resources such as Community Geriatric Psychiatry. During the year that followed, Marina learned Edmonton’s transportation system, participated in groups at the Safe House and connected with a domestic violence counsellor. She participated and flourished in an in-patient mental health recovery program and subsequent out-patient program where she gained amazing friends and overcame barriers, participated in Life Enrichment social recreation activities at Sage Seniors Association and so much more. While doing all of this, with the ICM by her side, she navigated the court processes necessary to maintain her safety with protection orders. 

More than a year later Marina is almost unrecognizable as that small scared woman who we first got to know. Not only is she thriving on her recovery journey, she is a source of great support to other older adults who have experienced abuse. Two weeks ago Marina came to the support group at the Safe House sporting a tattoo. She told us that she had always wanted a tattoo but her spouse wouldn’t allow it. Not only did she get a tattoo, she got it on the arm that he had injured and made weak. The tattoo Marina has is of a dragon with a sword. For her the image represents strength and she now calls this arm her “power arm”. 


Marina, thank you for bringing the Safe House team along on your journey. You are an inspiration and a wonderful example of strength and resilience. 



Elder abuse is often hidden as the elderly are frequently reluctant to speak out. ACWS has identified the following as barriers which may prevent the elderly from reporting abuse:  


1. Fear of being punished, of institutionalization, of rejection or abandonment by family members, of losing their caregiver, of losing access to family members, including grandchildren.


2. Love for the abuser  


3. Lack of understanding or impairment  


4. Shame and/or guilt. Victims of elder abuse may blame themselves for the violence and neglect they experience. They may feel ashamed of what has happened to them.  


5. Unaware of resources and options.  


6. Acceptance of abuse or neglect as normal. 





Source: Unpack Magazine 

“Just as justice is what love looks like in public, tenderness is what love feels like in private. To be a great father, you must be a militant for tenderness, an extremist for love, a fanatic for fairness, and, in the larger society, a drum major for justice.”
– Dr. Cornel West

If we watch television, listen to the radio, and follow the advice of parenting books, it is easy to understand how confusing the messages we receive about fatherhood can be.

We may hear: “You have to be tough on your kids; you have to be gentle with your kids. You have to provide for your family; you have to be an equal partner in housework. You are the head of the family; you are part of a team. You must be strong; you must be soft. You must tell your kids what to do; you must listen.”

It can make it hard to know what our roles and responsibilities as fathers should be. One way to help shape our decisions is to think about the outcome we are hoping for, and the goals that will lead us there.

One of the goals I have for my children is for them to live in and contribute to a world where all people are safe, strong and free regardless of their gender. I see my role as a father as central in helping them think about what it means to be a man in today’s world and how relationships between people – regardless of gender – can thrive.

“Fathers can play a powerful role in supporting our children as they move towards a future where all people can be safe, strong and free.”

There are 5 main guiding principles I use as a father to contribute to gender equity.

1. How I interact with and talk about women: modeling my belief that all people have value begins at home with how I treat the women in my family and how I talk about all women.

2. How I contribute to our home and family life: recognizing that the work I do in the home and with my family is just as valuable as the work I do outside the home.

3. How I respect my children: whatever my child’s gender is I try to respect them and their choices. They may not make the choices I would make but they are their own people.

4. How I teach my children: children of all genders have a right to be safe, strong and free. At the same time, they don’t have the right to restrict the rights of others. This is critical learning that we can teach in many ways.

5. How I teach my children to make decisions about their own bodies: teaching our children that their body is their own is a powerful message to them. We can do this by not forcing them to hug and kiss family members and by letting them make decisions about their own bodies.

Whether we are the fathers of boys, girls or children of any gender we can play a powerful role in supporting them thriving and moving towards a future in which all people can be safe, strong and free.

Tuval is the Leading Change Community Developer at ACWS. Leading Change offers gender-based violence prevention training for a variety of clients: schools, businesses, government, non-profits and communities. Find out how you can lead change by booking a consultation